BRISBANE, Australia — When he dared speak up about pay and conditions for the Nigeria women’s team, Randy Waldrum was described by one federation official as the worst coach to ever lead the Super Falcons to a Women’s World Cup.
Now, after orchestrating a run to a knockout-stage game against European champion England following a scoreless draw against Olympic champion Canada and an upset over co-host Australia, he’s still got the podium. He says he’ll use it at every opportunity to highlight how much better things could be.
A guaranteed pay deal for the national team, better training facilities for all players and more women in the coaching ranks — not just in Africa, but everywhere — are high on his agenda. Those are items he’ll address after this World Cup, where he’s putting no limits on his team.
Nigeria has qualified for all nine editions of the Women’s World Cup but has never won a game in the knockout rounds.
England is highly favored Monday in Brisbane but Waldrum believes Nigeria, with star forward Asisat Oshoala “fit and ready to go” and Desire Oparanozie healthy to return after injury, is capable of reproducing the kind of game that shocked the Matildas at the same venue 11 days previously.
“You can see the talent is there,” Waldrum said in the pre-match news conference on Sunday. “I think Nigeria could become a world power if we start to do things properly and invest more in women’s … like so many other nations need to be doing as well.”
Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa advanced through the group stage in a strong representation for African teams. Waldrum said the investment being made in Morocco was obvious by the Atlas Lionesses making the knockout round on debut here only seven months after the men’s team reached the semifinals at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. South Africa is investing heavily, too, he said, and showed the benefits of that by reaching the round of 16. South Africa’s run ended Sunday in a 2-0 loss to 2019 finalist Netherlands.
For now, women’s in Nigeria is a relatively untapped resource.
“I have to give credit to the players. It’s something that’s inside them. It’s inside their DNA to compete,” he said. “Overcoming obstacles is what they’ve done for their careers.
“It’s a challenge — we know what the top teams in the world have, and we’re aspiring to have those same things. But in the moment, we are where we are. It really comes down to trying to get the team organized and get the maximum out of each individual player and the talent they bring to the table.”
That has been evident in the group stage, where the success of the African teams, Waldrum said, was a surprise only to those on the outside of African football. Two-time champion Germany, Olympic gold medalist and perennial title contender Brazil both failed to advance beyond the group stage.
So he’s giving his unheralded team every chance of beating an England roster full of players from Europe’s biggest leagues, and continuing the celebrations.
“Well, it would be a huge win. I think already with what we’ve accomplished, Nigeria is buzzing again,” he said. “I don’t think people expected us to get out of the group, or to get the results that we’ve gotten. So it’s already been a big success.
“Obviously if you can not only now have beaten the Olympic gold medalist, but if you can turn around and beat the European champions, it would be something extremely special.
“It could certainly be transformational in a lot of different ways.”
Waldrum, who is a coach educator in the United States and also works with the University of Pittsburgh’s women’s team, said it’s important female coaches keep coming into the game at every level.
To advance, though, he needs to beat the last woman standing as head coach of a national team at the tournament. England is guided by Sarina Wiegman, one of a record 12 female head coaches who started this World Cup.
“Since she took over, you’ve seen the progression of the team. They’re so disciplined on both sides of the ball,” Waldrum said. “I give a ton of credit to her and what she’s done. Her pedigree speaks for itself.
“We need more women coaching. Certainly we need a bigger investment in (women’s soccer) and women in coaching.”
More AP Women’s World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup